The outcome of the Israeli parliamentary elections on November 1 will soon be decided by two sectors – or rather age groups: first-time voters and Russian-speaking youth.
It is the fifth round of voting in three years, so the majority of first-time voters will be 18-year-olds. In the long run, they are citizens who shape Israel‘s future and influence the Middle East.
According to Israel’s Central Election Commission, the numbers are staggering: in the fourth and next round of voting in March 2021. About 165,000 of these were Jewish voters. Among them were newly drafted soldiers and Orthodox peers who were far from military service.
They share very little in Israel’s daily life; as a political group they have much in common. Both leaned to the right or radical right – in other words, they were both part of what is now called the “Bibi Bloc”. Orthodox novices are strict and purposeful. They are following the rabbi’s orders, said Rabbi Benjamin Netanyahu.
Likud officials in charge of the campaign and, more importantly, Election Day, see themselves as dedicated volunteers who are happy to drop the cannon and appeal to Orthodox voters. But even established conventions now have a idiosyncrasy: Itamar Ben-Gvir, a right-wing member of parliament from the Religious Zionist Party, has attracted a significant number of young people.
In many ways, he was what they wanted but couldn’t. Even if they choose to ignore the rabbi’s instructions and vote for him, their vote remains with the family, meaning the Netanyahu bloc. After all, Netanyahu helped Ben-Gvir enter parliament and has now promised to make him a legitimate and influential member of the next government if he can form one. Ben-Gvir wants the job of Minister of Public Security, and he can get it.
The vocal patterns of their unusual starters were more varied, but not as significant. A July study by leading Israeli research firm Midgam looked at the voting patterns of voters between the ages of 18 and 25 to see what Israeli politics would look like if that age group were the only ones voting. In that case, Netanyahu’s group, which includes far-right and ultra-Orthodox parties, would win 71 seats in parliament.
46% of respondents identified themselves as “right-wing”, 16% as “center-right” and only 10% as “left”. Meret is the only Zionist party that defines itself as “left” and that has not crossed the electoral threshold. Prophecy is a risky business in the Middle East, but it can give us a glimpse of the future after November 1st.
Even before that happened, an unprecedented small phenomenon captured the spirit of political change in Israel: About 100,000 voters, most of them young, still defined themselves as “floating votes,” meaning they too could not decide whether to vote for Nethanyahu. Gantz, the former army chief of staff who leads the National Unity party, or Ben-Gvir, the racist who the military refused to recruit.
The second group we addressed were Russian-speaking young people.
For three decades, immigrants from the former Soviet Union were seen as a major force in Israeli elections. Now, for the first time since the start of this massive wave of immigration, the Arab vote is seen as the deciding factor in the upcoming elections. However, the 15 potential seats that the Russian-speaking local vote could offer could make all the difference. The politicians who understand this best are Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman, the finance minister and leader of Israel’s Yisrael Beitein, which is still considered a “Russian” party.
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